Pay Dirt

My Unemployed Husband Seems Determined Never to Work Again

Meanwhile, I’m exhausted.

A woman sits in front of a computer.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics.

Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here(It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt, 

My husband of 16 years has been under- or unemployed for more than six years. He is talented, smart, and affable, albeit suffers from the “smart so I don’t have to try hard” syndrome. He was never financially minded and resisted budgeting, so I’ve always handled our money. He got semi-consistent gig work for a few years. After we moved for my internship, he barely applied to positions and worked little on our fixer-upper, despite saying he would. He hung out with friends and drank/smoked weed more. He still visits friends overnight almost weekly. Employment has gone from an annoyance to a major stressor. I’ve tried discussing it, setting a schedule for applications, sending job ads, a trial separation, and marriage counseling. Nothing works. After six years, I’m angry and I just want him to get any fucking job.

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Equally frustrating is that I have worked hard to be where I am in my career with no debt. Currently, I make $75,000/year as an assistant professor with the option to teach for extra money in the summer. In the last five years, some chronic illnesses have taken their toll on my health and job performance. Every day I feel some combination of exhaustion, nausea, pain, and anxiety, plus issues with cognitive processing. I’ve discussed wanting to retire early, because I don’t know how long I can work. As is, we barely save anything and I always have to teach extra due to our finances.

Despite all of this, I love him. I don’t know if I could actually divorce him over this. I don’t feel like I can count on him anymore. Do you have suggestions for how I can maintain financial security as a chronically-ill person, while still being married to someone who will most likely be unemployed long-term?  Do you think a postnuptial agreement might be a good idea?

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—So Tired, But Not Done Yet

Dear So Tired, 

Your frustration is totally understandable. Your husband is behaving like a child, not an adult, and with no consideration for your needs. You obviously did not agree to this. It’s one thing to commit to being the sole breadwinner, and quite another to have your spouse put you in a position where you have no choice. You should not be having to tell him to apply for jobs or managing the process for him. You are not his mother.

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I think you have to consider whether or not you could tolerate this for the rest of your life, because it doesn’t sound like your husband has any desire to change. If he continued to behave like this, indefinitely, how would you feel about it and react to it? If you’re angry now, what’s going to happen if your illnesses get worse? If you lose your job? Would you be okay with essentially treating your husband as a dependent? I know these are hard questions, but you can’t bet on someone you love changing their behavior unless they want to.

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Your husband also needs to understand what kind of toll this is taking on you. Marriage isn’t just about love; it’s about support, too. You have been more than supportive of your husband, but he is not holding up his end of the deal. If this doesn’t change, what will it do to your health and happiness? Do you want to spend the rest of your life like this? Love doesn’t obligate you to let your husband take advantage of you or ruin your ability to address your own needs.

I am also sympathetic to the fact that we all tolerate bad behavior from loved ones sometimes, because we care about them. You have to decide whether your love for your husband outweighs the fact that he is probably not going to change, and think about what your relationship will look like in the future, given that. If the idea of being in the same position in twenty years, but potentially in worse health, is intolerable to you, you have your answer.

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Dear Pay Dirt, 

A question of money and ethics. Who am I hurting if I do not file a 1099 for my domestic cleaner? Do I owe it to society at large to insist upon this? I know the government estimates there are billions of dollars lost each year due to people failing to properly report and pay income. My cleaner just gave her notice, and I strongly suspect it was because I indicated I would like to file (at the urging of my accountant) a 1099 this coming tax year and asked her to complete a W-9. She is a self-employed independent contractor. She cleans for other families too, and she cleaned for me every other week. I want to do what’s right, but compared to the Trumps of the world who pay lawyers and accountants by the dozen to find tax loopholes and skirt the system, I personally don’t feel that bad looking the other way when working-class and middle-class people are doing some work under the table. But maybe I’m wrong?

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—I Can’t See The Bad Here

Dear Can’t See The Bad, 

We have a lot of policies in this country that exacerbate inequality and create dubious moral outcomes, including the ones you allude to that require poor people to sacrifice more than rich people when it comes to meeting basic needs. I could enumerate the things I find personally abhorrent in addition to that—the death penalty, policies that punish poor children for school lunch debts, voter suppression laws, and so on.

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Nonetheless, we’re obligated to follow the law, and can’t pick and choose individually what we will and won’t do. Unless you’re willing to die on this hill on a civil disobedience basis, I think you have to file the 1099. If you’re concerned that this is going to cause your cleaner financial problems, you can always pay her a bonus if you choose. And keep in mind that if she doesn’t report the income and gets caught, you both could face penalties. So I’m sympathetic to your feelings that it’s not fair or right that wealthy people are held to different standards, but I doubt you want to get yourself or your cleaner in trouble as a protest.

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Dear Pay Dirt, 

My wife and I (early 30s) have a problem we could use some help thinking through. We live in an expensive city but moved into our dream apartment in late 2020, signing a two-year lease when rents were low due to COVID. We have put a lot of time and love into getting the apartment just right and have hoped to live there for a long time. Now there are rumors that the landlords (whom we’ve never met) are raising rents aggressively, to the tune $1k-1.5k/month. We expected that our rent would increase when the lease ended, but this is ridiculous!

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Some context—my wife and I do a modified 50-30-20 plan (30% of our take home pay on rent, 50% on everything else, 20% savings). Since we moved in, my wife has gotten a higher paying job and I have gotten a raise, so if the rent increased $500/month it would still be at 30% of our take home pay. In theory, we’d be willing to pay a bit more than the 30% allotment by cutting into the 50% “everything else” bucket to stay in this great space, but two things give us pause: the company my wife works for is struggling and may have to close soon, and we would like to start trying for a baby.

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What should we do? Wait and hope the market moves in our favor? Fight (a friend suggested we contact our state representative to see if we have any options)? Try to negotiate? Bite the bullet and pay the higher rent? Were we naive to think we could stay there for a long time? Should we resolve that we’ll have to move and find a cheaper place to start saving more?

—Don’t Want To Go Above That 30%

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Dear Don’t Want to Go Above, 

Without knowing which city you live in, it’s hard to say. I live in New York City, where there are tenant protections that make the kind of rent increase you’re talking about very difficult for landlords to execute, especially with little notice. It’s worth checking to make sure your landlord isn’t violating any similar protections where you live, with a raise that high.

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I don’t want to speculate about where the market is going, but as you’re probably aware, the Fed is preparing for a series of interest rate hikes that will affect not just the home-buying market, but the rental market as well. Thirty-year mortgage rates just went above 5% and you can potentially expect that change to push rents even higher. So you should also take a look at rentals in your area and see what’s available for a price comparable to what you’re paying now. It could be that your landlord’s increases are in line with local increases, which were high across the board last year. If that turns out to be the case, there’s not much incentive for you to leave your current place. If there are comparable places available for significantly lower prices, then you really need to quantify for yourselves how much your ideal space is worth, versus something less ideal but cheaper.

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You should also have a plan for managing all of this if your wife loses her job, which would be a problem even if your rent stayed the same. If you’re putting 20% of your income into savings, you’re ahead of most people, so I’m sure you’ve given this some thought, but having the specifics worked out will give you some additional peace of mind.

Lastly, there’s no harm in trying to negotiate. It may be that your landlord is also dealing with too many vacancies, and if so, that may give you some leverage in the discussion.

Dear Pay Dirt, 

I am a high-school teacher with two kids. I am towards the top of my pay scale in a state that appreciates teachers and provides what I think is a fair salary. Years ago, I started tutoring to make some extra money. This grew into a relatively large clientele and good side income which allowed me to save for a down payment for a house, justify taking off in the summer, and go on vacations.

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I’ve reached the point in my career where I don’t really need the extra money, though I am also faced with looming college expenses and other unforeseen expenses. My question is really simple I suppose: When should I decide that I’ve had enough of this side hustle? Is it irresponsible to turn down relatively easy money to help my kids with college expenses? Will I ultimately regret the time I spend tutoring other people’s kids when I could be with my own?

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—Time, Or Time?

Dear Time, Or Time, 

If you think your salary is sufficient for your needs, there’s no reason to do extra work just because it’s available. So I think you have to ask yourself two questions: First, what do you anticipate these new college expenses to be, and how much of them do you feel obligated to take on? If you can quantify that, you have a number to work toward if you choose to keep up your side hustle. When you hit that number, give yourself permission to quit.

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If you think you’re fine financially, the second question is, how much do you enjoy your side hustle? Some people really enjoy doing entrepreneurial things and the financial independence that can sometimes come with a good side gig. Is that a motivation for you? I don’t believe there’s any virtue in working more for its own sake, and you don’t want to burn yourself out, which would be bad for you and your family. If you feel relatively secure, your decision should be based on what else you do and don’t get out of the side hustle. If the answer is “nothing,” then that’s another reason to give yourself permission to stop.

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—Elizabeth

More Advice from Slate

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My brother is a child molester who targets prepubescent girls. He doesn’t deny the things that he’s done, but he insists that he’s all better now and no longer has those urges. He’s never suffered any legal consequences for his actions. A while back, I saw on his Facebook page that he was posting a lot of selfies with the 4-year-old daughter of some friends that he often babysat for—actually, the term he used was “borrow.” I immediately messaged the parents and told them that while I loved my brother, I had to let them know that their daughter was not safe with him. My brother was very angry with me, to put it mildly. My problem is his two sons, who are now adults. I am close with one of them in particular. We FaceTime occasionally, do things like live-text baseball games, and he goes out of his way to visit me, independent of any other family functions. To all appearances, he and his father have a normal father-son relationship, and I have no idea whether my nephews know that their dad’s a pedophile. It will break my heart if I lose my relationship with my nephew because he is persuaded to believe terrible things about me, or because he is forced into a position of having to choose between me and his father. I know it’s coming, and I don’t know what to say or do when it does.

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